The Gotham City Mixtape: Four Strange Songs About Batman
Last week, I got this question via email from a ComicsAlliance reader:
Beyond Method Man's opus to the Riddler, I had largely disregarded the music surrounding Batman. This last week introduced me not only to the Batman Musical episode of Batman Beyond, but a Justice League episode where he belts out "Am I Blue?" Are there other musical moments of the Caped Crusader's which I should experience?
Originally, I'd planned to answer that as part of my weekly "Ask Chris" column, but as tends to happen when I write about Batman, it got a little bit out of hand, so I'm tackling it now. And the answer is... well, yes and no.
As should probably be expected from the fact that comics are something you read rather than hear, Batman doesn't get to sing too often, and Kevin Conroy's rendition of "Am I Blue?" is the only example of the Dark Knight himself singing that I'm aware of. But there are plenty of noteworthy songs about Batman.Unsurprisingly, the majority of Batman-related songs hit during the late '60s at the height of the Adam West/Burt Ward TV show. The show's impact on American pop culture was absolutely phenomenal, and the music of the time reflects that -- largely, I assume, because the show itself featured acts like Paul Revere and the Raiders. There were dozens of songs released throughout the show's run (as seen on this handy list from 60sGarageBands.com) ranging from covers of Neil Hefti's theme song to more esoteric offerings like Seeds of Euphoria's "Let's Send Batman to Viet Nam."
There were even entire bands that took their cue from the show, including these guys, The Batmen...
...who combined masks, capes, and a glittered-out kick to become the coolest dudes you will see today, as well as The Gotham City Crime Fighters, who would evolve into funk/soul supergroup Tower of Power:
Even with all that, though, some of the weirdest stuff came through more-or-less official channels, starting with the 1966 album "Jan and Dean Meet Batman."
Jan and Dean -- not to be confused with Chad and Jeremy, the British folk duo who appeared in an episode of the show where their voices were stolen by Catwoman -- were a duo at the forefront of surf rock who hit big with "Dead Man's Curve," "The Little Old Lady From Pasadena" and "Surf City." They were also apparently fans of the show, which led them to create a truly bizarre concept album that was half songs about Batman and half scripted skits (including a pretty offensive Yellow Peril caricature villain) about they themselves becoming "Captain Jan and Dean, the Boy Blunder."
It's their song about Batman , though, that stands as the gem of the album
If there's anything that justifies humanity's desire to create art more than the surf-rock falsetto singing of "Criminals are a superstitious cowardly lot / so my disguise must be able / to strike terror into their hearts," then I haven't heard it.
The entire album's about that weird (or weirder), but what's interesting about it is that towards the end, it gets to the point where it becomes clear that this entire project was less about recording an album and more about just goofing off with your friends and making bad jokes about Batman. It is, in essence, the world's first comic book podcast.
Even stranger than that, though, was a single released around the same time (June, 1966) called "The Boy Wonder Sessions." As you might expect from the title, this not only focused on Robin, but featured Burt Ward doing the vocals. That's not the weird part.
The weird part is that the song was written and arranged by legendary rocker Frank Zappa, whose debut album with the Mothers of Invention dropped the same month. Zappa also arranged the B-Side, "Orange Coloured Sky" (written by Milton DeLugg, the musical director of the Gong Show who also wrote the amazing theme to "Santa Claus Conquers the Martians"). It also has the distinction of being one of the worst-sung songs I have ever heard in my life, to the point where I honestly can't tell if it's meant to be bad.
Ward was hardly the only one who did a song based on his "Batman" character, though: When I was a kid, I had an album that (in addition to the Jan and Dean track about the Joker) featured a track with Burgess Meredith as the Penguin and a pretty great song about the Riddler written by Mel Torme and performed by Frank Gorshin, complete with manic laughter. My absolute favorite piece of Bat-Music of the era, though, was "Miranda."
Not only did Adam West himself sing this song (and its amazing, non-copyright-infringing references to "Bruce" and "Boy Genius") for the album, he also reportedly performed it live in full costume on occasion during public appearances as Batman, and if I ever get a time machine, that's the first thing I'm hitting up.
The most interesting thing about this song, however, is how it went down behind the scenes: According to the liner notes on the album I had -- "Batmania" -- West was in the hospital with the flu and doped up on medicine when he signed the contract to do it after his agent brought it in and barely remembered doing so after. If memory serves, he pointed out that he was an actor not a singer, but they convinced him to do it anyway, and all things considered, it turned out pretty well. Better than "Orange Coloured Skies," anyway.
After the end of the show, songs about Batman more or less faded away, though there was a brief spike in 1989 when the Tim Burton "Batman" movie hit and spawned Prince's truly amazing "Batdance" -- and two comics about Prince from DC's short-lived Piranha Press imprint where Prince referred to himself as Batman in scripts by future "Justice League" writer Dwayne McDuffie.
Batman was never really gone from the world of music, though, and one of the best songs about Batman is actually pretty recent: "Batman (You're The Sex)" by the all-girl Canadian rock band The Stolen Minks, off their 2006 album "Family Boycott":
The song was written by former band member / current comics blogger Rachelle Goguen (of Living Between Wednesdays) who sings and plays keyboards, and in addition to being a pretty solid rock song, it reads like one of her "Rating the Super-Hunks" columns set to music, and that is rad. If only for the fact that It contains the line "he knows every martial art that exists / he's a crime-fightin' ass-kickin' scientist," it's my all-time favorite song about Batman.
Until I get my hands on a copy of "Let's Send Batman to Viet Nam," that is.